I summited Mt Katahdin a month and four days ago and entered into the 100 mile wilderness not sure what to expect but happy to be back where I belonged on the trail. I wound up with someone I connected with easily on the Pacific Crest Trail last year, which was fitting, as I began the AT with someone I connected with easily on the PCT last year. The last post I wrote described my first week in Maine. I began what’s called a flip-flop, meaning that instead of straight northbounding, I began a southbound to return to the place where I was first injured and left off. Thru hiking is pretty funny, people create all kinds of crazy rules regarding what a “true” thru hike consists of, what skipping miles means, what hitching a ride is, so fourth and so on. When I hiked the PCT I suppose I was more rigid. The beginning of the AT was similar. I skipped zero miles and wouldn’t dream of flip flopping. I was stubborn and didn’t want to patch my thru hike together. I couldn’t imagine finishing unless it was at the top of Katahdin after a long struggling, self discovering journey ever north. Before I was injured time and miles were huge, I was constantly reconfiguring my zero days to see just how much fun I could afford to have. In doing so, I think I was almost certainly missing the point of (my) thru hike. I was enjoying my surroundings and enjoying my trail family, but I was never able to fully let go, do however many miles I wanted. If I saw a beautiful place and wanted to stop to just be there and had only gone 5 miles, I was not really allowed to partake. I had to keep going. After my injury, I suppose I had freedom to take my time. My partner, becoming a massive influence on me, gave me even more freedom, the freedom to just relax, to actually enjoy the trail.
I speak of the trail as if we are in a relationship, because we are. I have idolized it, romanticized it, talked it down. I’ve been on it and with it and it has become my backbone. I feel that taking my time over the past month with it has given me a fully different perspective. I have the room to properly understand my love for it. And it has truly felt the exact same as falling in love. My partner often instigates our staying at a beautiful lake to swim. He nods his head in approval when I suggest a nap after lunch. He offers the option of lounging around on a summit all day to watch the sun set and to sleep there to watch the sunrise even though we’ve only done 5 miles for the day. This respect for where we are and this ability to let our minds and bodies interact with the trail without breaking our backs or rushing through terrain is some of the most beautiful experiencing of life I’ve given myself the opportunity to have. The terrain is challenging still and as I approach the White Mountains will become more so. To be able to let myself go slower allows me to become stronger without wearing myself down. It gives me a chance to see every tiny world unfolding in the forest. When I stop to get water I can look for as long as I want at the life teeming around the stream, river, pond or spring. As I climb I can focus on my breathing, freeing myself of pain, fear, anger and sadness and really opening myself to happiness. I am able to focus on the green, moist world around me. The forest feels like it is breathing life into me now, instead of sucking it out. The more time I take to swim in ponds and waterfalls and to lay on the ground under the exploding night sky, the more in love I fall with the trail. I find myself giving thanks when the trail is particularly smooth. I curse less when it is challenging. I look forward to seeing what is around as I open my eyes in the morning. I am always curious to see what the trail has to offer day in and day out and feel such an intense sense of gratitude that I am brought to tears on occasion. The moss is so vibrant, the roots that trip me up are old and massive and wandering to keep the trees above alive and tall. The forest feels safe and all enveloping now. It keeps the cool air in and as dusk approaches, it feels mysterious and quiet. Toads jump awkwardly in front of my feet, reminding me that there is a little world very much alive everywhere and to pay attention. Grouse and pheasants are strutting their stuff as they seek mates and they flap in flight to escape us as we walk by, their wings sounding and feeling like my heart beating in my chest. Autumn light is just beginning to make it’s way through the trees, golden buttery glowing autumn deliciousness. The air at night is beginning to chill and the night sky is becoming ever sharper. Sunset begins it’s onslaught sooner, and sunrise seems longer. The trail just becomes more beautiful as the seasons change. Soon enough the leaves will change, creating a fireworks like display of exposing colors of foliage.
Maine has been such an expansive world of lakes (or ponds as they call them), bogs, mud, roots, massive trees, little pines in new growth forests, pine needle floors, big electric blue skies, rugged wilderness so intimate and so unexplored, it has been hulking mountains, bald granite peaks, dense secret dark fern filled forests. I have swam in ponds, waterfalls, cascades and rivers. I’ve camped on the beach and built a fire at twilight, I’ve laid on my back on the forest floor and watched the stars begin their morse code of twinkling as my partner talked quietly to me, making me laugh and realize how small I am in this whole damn universe deal. I’ve cried in defeat as I climbed, as I painfully descended. I’ve watched tiny bugs moving about in the massive world they wander in. I’ve fallen face first over and over, bloodying my knees, bruising my arms. I’ve listened to the wind in the trees and it sounded for all the world like a rushing river. I’ve been reborn a million times over out here. Touching everything I can, breathing in some of the best air you can imagine, being held and embraced and touched by the best lover I’ve ever shared time and space with (the trail). For the first time in my life I am so lucky to be ever present. Here. Now. I do not think about the future. I do not feel guilty. I feel thankful and drunk with love and appreciation. I have met some of the most beautiful people and jumped naked into a lake with two people id just met as the day was ending, and we swam to a spot and told each other out fears. We only get to do this once folks. We have to feel all of it, not be scared, embrace it. We have to really truly enjoy what we are given.
I’m so very lucky to have the partner I’ve had the past month and hopefully for longer. I know I already possessed my freedom and gratitude, but he’s given me the ability to really believe in all of my daydreaming. He reminds me that my imagination is not only accessible, but a reality. He reminds me to love myself as much as I love everyone else. His attitude and positivity come from the most genuine place I’ve ever seen. He is self assertive yet selfless and takes care of me. He’s helped me to accept my weaknesses and to see my strength and beauty. He also literally makes me laugh all day every day. I’ve had the great opportunity to share space with some of the most amazing human beings on the planet but he takes the cake. This past month has been quite a learning curve for me. And the more I allow myself to fall in love with the trail, the more ok I am with how vulnerable it makes me. The more ok I am with myself. The more I’m ok with those things, the more I can understand and access the deep connection and love my surroundings are trying to provide. Having someone to expand and share that experience with is other worldly. In a sense I’ve been in some strange meditative state, I’ve been time traveling. I’ve been inside and outside of my heart and brain and guts, and the trail has infiltrated me. I feel as though we are beginning to have a symbiotic relationship. And I feel lucky.
I’ve got 30 miles of Maine left. I’m almost scared to leave the state. New Hampshire is massive, huge climbs, scary mountains, unforgiving descents, moody and unpredictable weather. Yet it is the crown jewel, it’s expansive, jaw dropping, open and raw. I suppose I can only feel excited, scared, full of the rush and vulnerability of giving into the trail all of the way. This is not just my home out here. This is my reality, my world. I’m so lucky to be in it every day. It just keeps teaching and pushing and pulling. I’m further and deeper into it all of the time. Right here is where I belong right now.